“I’ve been here and there, mostly there. I go where I like and leave when I’m no longer welcome. I don’t like being in one place for too long.”
Vagabonds, nomads, roamers — wasters are all of these. They travel the Wastes, surviving by never staying in one place too long and scavenging what they can. They all have different methods of staying alive and being useful; hired guns, merchants, wandering healers, and mystics can all take to wandering the long road. Wasters share no common background other than perhaps a certain dissatisfaction with wherever they were before they began wandering. People who have left their home communities and former bandits all take to the road. Wasters rarely stay in one place for long. They are valued primarily as a conduit for news and trade, but feared because of their unpredictability. Groups of Wasters have formed around certain agreed-upon ideologies. These always involve taking advantage of the freedom provided by life on the move, either to do something as prosaic as ponder existence, or, more practically, to avoid the consequences of whatever trouble they have caused.
“We exist to figure out what it means to exist, man.”
Wandering nomads always looking for the next great high, the Burners are an eclectic group who dress in bright clothes, wear their hair in long dreads, reject authority, cause trouble for fun, travel constantly in groups, and are legendary in their ability to create and consume vast quantities of drugs. Not much of their product finds its way out of the group, but what little does is considered to be some of the best stuff in the Wastes if you want to get trashed. Burners are notoriously mobile; they consider “The Journey” a sacred rite. By virtue of the fact that they tend to make everyone around them massively high and reject any form of authority as a matter of course, most civilized areas will end up throwing the Burners out within a few days anyway. Most stop short of killing them, however, because drugs are a much needed commodity in the Wastes. Getting on the bad side of the Burners is a great way to suddenly find yourself with a settlement full of people suffering from detox.
Burner enclaves and encampments are rather easy to identify, as their tradition is to build an effigy out of sticks and various bits of junk while they are settled. When the Effigy is completed, they consider it to be an omen that they should move on. Coincidentally, this is usually around when they’ve caused enough trouble in any one given area to get them kicked out. Their departure is usually marked by a huge rave-like party where they get bombed out of their minds and set fire to the effigy as an offering to The Journey before continuing on.
“What, you think you’re so fucking slick, dontcha! Well, you ain’t! We used to fight the system; now we will become the system, motherfucker. No one will ever tell us what to do again, Oi!…. and no, no one gets to know what “smile” means, especially not you, you poseur!”
Leather clad, mohawked, and tattooed, SMILE members are loud and proud about what they do and with good reason. SMILE members are the best at their chosen field, and that field is hacking old computer systems while telling you to sod off, calling you a twat, and giving you a one fingered salute. They live to find old mainframes buried deep in bunkers and hidden across the wastes. Discovering one of these is one of the few ways to convince a SMILEy to be civil to you. Those who choose to dwell near large structures containing integrated computer systems, especially old military bases, are sure to run into SMILE at some point when they come sniffing around for systems to hack.
Most choose not to deal with this rude and crude group of miscreants, who are insular by choice and circumstance. This soon ends, however, when they run into some sort of computer or electronics based problem, as SMILE’s reputation precedes them. SMILEys outright refuse to deal with anyone in any sort of position of authority, though, regarding them as part of “The Establishment” that, according to SMILE’s ethos, already destroyed the world once. Any member of SMILE caught dealing with authority figures and leaders of any sort faces widespread derision and eventual removal from SMILE itself. Being removed from SMILE gets you branded (sometimes literally) as a poseur, though few outside of SMILE know what that means.
SMILE’s current leader, the third to hold the title after the founder Lord Crass died of cancer and his successor Slick Six retired, is Lady Alkaline. While not truly a leader since the group rejects the whole concept of being told what to do, Lady Alkaline is tasked with determining what constitutes poseur behavior and representing the group as a sort of figurehead and guide. Currently, she has been cracking down on anyone who allows themselves to be manipulated in any way by authority. Until Lady Alkaline took the reins, a trend amongst group leaders had been to approach SMILE members using subordinates rather than asking themselves and phrasing the requests as favors, techniques that bypassed most of SMILE’s hang ups. Lady Alkaline has since put a stop to taking up favors altogether, a move that has somewhat split SMILE as an organization.
Soldiers of Fortune
“Yeah, we can kill those guys. The question, though, is will we? That’s where payment comes in, so let’s get down to that.”
After the Fall, probably more than ever before, blood is currency. There has always been a need for both bullets and the people who put them where they need to go. Given the current rarity of good ammunition, the person pulling the trigger is even more valuable. Nowadays, the best in this lucrative business are the Soldiers of Fortune. The Soldiers are mercenaries defined. They are unwaveringly loyal to whatever contract they sign and are known to always complete their deals, no matter the cost.
The Soldiers of Fortune have no central base or organization. They travel the Wastes in units as small as three but no larger than a half dozen, looking for possible contracts. They have a few general rules that everyone knows. They never accept contracts from forces that are obviously winning or who outmatch the opposition. They look down on wholesale slaughter of any sort; even though they’re mercenaries, they have a large degree of martial pride. Only if they believe it is an even fight will they accept the contract from the highest bidder. They will not fight anyone incapable of putting up a good fight themselves; they’re mercenaries, not executioners. They also won’t walk into a meat grinder or die without a good reason. While they delight in a challenge — like distracting a larger force while their contract holder escapes unharmed — they won’t agree to stand and die for them.
Soldiers of Fortune are, for good reasons, a very exclusive group. They don’t want anyone in their ranks who will engage in wanton murder or break contracts to sully their reputable name. Anyone who does so is known to face the dreaded “Code Red”: a gruesome, public death by torture. Incidentally, this is also the fate of anyone who goes back on a contract with the Soldiers of Fortune. The Soldiers have no central authority, though they often refer to some distant figure, known as The Quartermaster, who arranges contractual obligations, handles equipment, and generally acts as an arbitrator when necessary. Little else is known about this person.
“They can go, and have been, everywhere it seems. You can’t keep them out of anywhere, so don’t even try. They’re like ghosts — stinky, unwashed, disgusting ghosts.”
There are your regular everyday nomads, and then there are the Drift. The Drift have turned to travelling across, scavenging from, and living off the Wastes into an art form, one they closely guard. Drift members are few and far between, and they don’t often reveal themselves openly. Only a little is known of their motives: they consider survival to be of paramount importance, and they seek to protect themselves from all threats, including other survivors. They communicate through an elaborate secret code of symbols to warn each other of threats and to give away the location of secret stashes and weapons caches for fellow Drift members to use in dangerous situations. Other than this, though, the motives and mission, if they even have one, of the Drift is a total mystery.
The Messengers’ Guild
“They’re few, and many of them are downright crazy. But really if you want something important to get from point A to point B, they’re the only option.”
Even after the Fall, communication is still important in the wastes. With phones and radios rare, and the internet a distant memory, the Messengers’ Guild has stepped in to meet the needs of long distance communications. Just about anyone can become a Messenger, and many do in order to see the Wastes and travel. It is not an easy life, however; while Messengers are well paid for their services, it’s because they find themselves going places no sane person wants to go and trying to cross terrain no one has before. Therefore, Messengers who know secret passages and hidden trails can command high prices for their services.
The Messengers, specializing in long distance communication, have developed elaborate methods over the years they have been in operation. Telegraph lines, smoke signals, radios waves, complex codes, and more have all been utilized by them. While many view them as heroes, a few think of them as thieves and worse. While they do their job well, they also try to create a monopoly. They jealously guard their business, even going so far as to sabotage, intercept, and even kill other people carrying news and messages. On the other end, they have to protect themselves. Most Bandits will shoot a Messenger on sight to prevent him from warning nearby people of their movement. Messengers on the move will, therefore, usually shoot first and ask questions later.
“The past is dead, but there is still so much to learn from it.”
Most of what remains of humanity, and other various creatures that roam the Wastes nowadays, don’t give a damn about the past because it has nothing to do with day to day survival. Not so with the Keepers. The Keepers roam the Wastes wearing their customary hooded robes, which they say symbolized old world scholars and knowledge seekers. They can often be seen obsessively combing through ancient ruins no one else bothers to touch, searching for bits and pieces of knowledge in an effort to reconstruct what they can of the world before the Fall. The Keepers are not open with their reasoning for this behavior, a quirk that naturally leads most to distrust them. Given the fear of old world tech and general distrust of anything that was ubiquitous before the Fall, this is reasonable. The Keepers tend to be perfectly happy to be left to their own devices anyway. This is, of course, unless someone stumbles across something the Keepers want. In these cases, the unlucky scavenger is given precisely one warning. Those that ignore the warning have been know to disappear. It isn’t known whether or not the Keepers use this old world tech, but the Keepers aren’t in the habit of explaining themselves or their methods. Rumor does, however, speak of the Keeper Vault, a massive underground structure that houses all of the Keepers’ greatest technological treasures.
“We hold the secrets to gas, to engines, to wheels. Cars are we and we are cars; we’ve got gasoline in our blood, and oil and brake fluid in our bones. You don’t know real freedom or speed until you get behind the wheel.”
Cruising the Wastes in metal chariots, spewing black acrid smoke and the fumes of burning oil and high test gasoline, the Wheelmen rule the open roads of the Wastes with speed. Of all the various groups of engineers, machinists, and chemists roaming the Wastes, only the Wheelmen have been able to unlock the secret powers of the V8 engine and gasoline. They guard their secret jealously, for it is the only thing that allows them their definition of freedom in the Wastes. The Wheelmen are nomadic, staying mobile to avoid entanglements with the various groups of the Wastes while also avoiding Bandits and Settlers whenever possible.
While their reverence for cars and engines borders on religious, the Wheelmen are one of the more secular groups in Sokal. They have their own creed involving principles of freedom, nomadism, and respect. The patroness that represents their code is a beautiful woman called the Chrome Goddess. The Goddess is represented on all of their functional vehicles as a sort of blessing, meaning the vehicle is capable of carrying those who follow her creed.
Somewhat paradoxically, the very thing that gives the Wheelmen the freedom they seek is also what makes them so desirable for capture and interrogation. Most Bandits would do more than kill for the secrets of cars and engines. Somehow, over the years, the Wheelmen have managed to keep their secrets safe. This also makes the Wheelmen very paranoid of outsiders, and they will almost never deal with them. Luckily for them, their mobility means they rarely have to.